From the swamps of Dagobah to a city in the clouds, there’s no question my favorite location from 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back was Hoth. The cold, wide open space conveyed to viewers just how far the Rebels had traveled to hide from the Empire. Other than mystical inhabitants such as Wampas and Tauntauns, Hoth seemed like a very real place that a person could visit. (Technically, you could; the Hoth scenes were shot in Finse, Norway.)
George Lucas has an affinity for contrast (think Ewoks vs. Stormtroopers), which is certainly on display in the Battle of Hoth where fast, sharp-edged Snowspeeders take on the imperial’s fleet of AT-ATs (All Terrain Armored Transports, also known as Snow Walkers).
Unlike the first film (which caught the toy industry off guard), George Lucas and Kenner were well prepared for the demand of Star Wars toys after the release of The Empire Strikes Back, and there was no shortage of Hoth-related action figures, ships, and playsets. And while lots of kids owned Wampas, Tauntauns and Snowspeeders, only the luckiest of children owned one of Kenner’s most massive toys, the AT-AT.
At nearly a foot-and-a-half long and almost two-feet tall, the AT-AT was at the time one of the largest Star Wars vehicles on the market. Two figures can sit in the cockpit and according to the box up to ten more can ride in the back, although you could easily shove two dozen in there if you had two. There was a handle inside to control the metallic beast’s head, guns that lit up as they fired, and four legs with three points of articulation each.
It’s really hard to convey just how large the AT-AT seemed (of course we were smaller!). One day I took my AT-AT to school for show and tell and he took up half the bus seat on my way to and from school!
I received my AT-AT for Christmas in 1981, and by then I already owned all the action figures to go with it. My neighbor, Andy, was the only other friend I knew who had one. In the spring of 1982 after a light snow, the two of us met at the end of my driveway and set up our own tribute to Hoth. After placing our AT-ATs side by side, we spent a few minutes surrounding them with our fleet of Snowtroopers, using our cold, numb fingers to drive them into the slush.
I don’t think our intention was to have a picture taken, but my father (who was always taking pictures) came outside and snapped this photo for us. Later, as we were gathering our toys, I noticed my AT-AT Driver figure laying in the snow on his side. If you look closely at the picture, you can actually see him mid-fall between the left AT-AT and the camera toward the bottom of the picture.
A few years ago after a particularly heavy snow fall, I decided to create another AT-AT photo. After setting up my AT-ATs in the front yard I decided it was too cold to stand all my old figure up in the snow, and opted for a quick snapshot before going back inside!